For a team that had won eight straight Central Coast Section Division II water polo titles, it was an inauspicious start to the 2015 season for the Sacred Heart Prep girls.
One of the team's top scorers, junior Maddy Johnston, was still with the USA Cadet Women's National Team at the UANA Youth Pan American Championships in Kingston, Jamaica. Moreover, SHP coach Jon Burke had two unproven goalies in junior Jane Rakow and freshman Nellie McAdams neither of whom had seen a minute of varsity action.
Not too surprisingly, the Gators opened their season with a 15-6 loss to Leland. Since then, however, things have been quite different.
Sacred Heart Prep heads into this weekend's 13th annual NorCal Championships with a 16-4 record after clinching the West Catholic Athletic League regular-season title on Wednesday with a 16-7 triumph over host Presentation.
"I'd say we are definitely happy how things have turned around since we took those early losses to Leland and Clovis," Burke said.
The Gators, 6-0 in the WCAL, have won six straight and nine of their past 10. While that streak of success is promising, Burke knows that the NorCal event features three teams that have accounted for the Gators' four losses this season.
The 16-team, two-day event features No. 1 seed San Ramon Valley, which has beaten SHP twice (13-1 and 12-9). Also competing is No. 3 Clovis, which handed the Gators a 10-3 loss in the St. Francis Autumn Invitational. And then there is No. 14 Leland.
While No. 2-seeded SHP has avenged its season-opening loss to Leland, Burke would like another shot at Clovis and/or San Ramon Valley this weekend -- but knows both teams will be tough to beat.
"Our team goal is to finish top four and we think we've good a good shot," said Burke. "But, we'll have to beat Clovis North in the first round and either (No. 7) St. Francis or (No. 10) Las Lomas in the quarterfinals to get there. That said, we're more concerned about playing good water polo and getting competitive games than we are how we place in the tournament.
"It's a great opportunity for us to look back at the regular season and see how far we've come and gauge what we need to change as we move into postseason play."
SHP will open Friday against No. 15 Clovis North at 1:05 p.m. The Gators will host one half of the bracket at the Dunlevie Aquatic Center while Soda Aquatic Center (Moraga) will host the other half Friday with St. Francis hosting the consolation rounds Saturday.
The semifinals will at at SHP on Saturday, at 11 a.m. and 12:20 p.m., with the championship match set for 5 p.m.
"We've played good water polo the past seven or eight weeks and only have two losses in that time," said Burke. "Both of them came to San Ramon, which is the top team in Northern California right now. "
Gunn, seeded No. 16, has the unenviable task of facing No. 1 San Ramon Valley on Friday at Soda Aquatic Center at 10:55 a.m. Other teams entered include No. 4 Monte Vista (Danville), No. 5 Miramonte, No. 6 Campolindo, No. 8 Davis, No. 9 Acalanes, No. 11 Clovis West, No. 12 St. Francis (Sacramento), and No. 13 Soquel.
Campolindo is the defending champion. San Ramon Valley, which was second last season, won the title in 2013. The Wolves are led by junior Sarah Klass, who played with Johnston on the USA Cadet team in Jamaica. Craig Klass, a former Stanford water polo All-American, is an assistant coach with San Ramon.
Sacred Heart Prep last won this title in 2007, and also took the crown in 2005.
2015 NORCAL WATER POLO CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Soda Aquatic Center (Moraga)
Game 1 -- No. 1 San Ramon Valley vs. No. 16 Gunn, 10:55 a.m.
Game 3 -- No. 8 Davis vs. No. 9 Acalanes, noon
Game 5 -- No. 3 Clovis vs. No. 14 Leland, 1:05 p.m.
Game 7 -- No. 6 Campolindo vs. No. 11 Clovis West, 2:10 p.m.
Game 9 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 3:15 p.m.
Game 11 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 3 winner, 4:20 p.m.
Game 13 -- Game 5 loser vs. Game 7 loser, 5:25 p.m.
Game 15 -- Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 6:30 p.m.
At Sacred Heart Prep
Game 2 -- No. 4 Monte Vista (Danville) vs. No. 13 Soquel, 10:55 a.m.
Game 4 -- No. 5 Miramonte vs. No. 12 St. Francis (Sacramento), noon
Game 6 -- No. 2 Sacred Heart Prep vs. No. 15 Clovis North, 1:05 p.m.
Game 8 -- No. 7 St. Francis vs. No. 10 Las Lomas, 2:10 p.m.
Game 10 -- Game 2 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 3:15 p.m.
Game 12 -- Game 2 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 4:20 p.m.
Game 14 -- Game 6 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 5:25 p.m.
Game 16 -- Game 6 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 6:30 p.m.
At Sacred Heart Prep
Game 17 -- Game 11 loser vs. Game 12 loser, 8:50 a.m.
Game 19 -- Game 15 loser vs. Game 16 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 21 -- Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner (semifinal), 11:10 a.m.
Game 23 -- Game 15 winner vs. Game 16 winner (semifinal), 12:20 p.m.
Game 25 -- Game 17 loser vs. Game 19 loser (7th place), 1:30 p.m.
Game 27 -- Game 17 winner vs. Game 19 winner (5th place), 2:40 p.m.
Game 29 -- Game 21 loser vs. Game 23 loser (3rd place), 3:50 p.m.
Game 31 -- Game 21 winner vs. Game 23 winner (1st place), 5 p.m.
At St. Francis High
Game 18 -- Game 9 loser vs. Game 10 loser, 8:50 a.m.
Game 20 -- Game 13 loser vs. Game 14 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 22 -- Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 11:10 a.m.
Game 24 -- Game 13 winner vs. Game 14 winner, 12:20 p.m.
Game 26 -- Game 18 loser vs. Game 20 loser, (15th place), 1:30 p.m.
Game 28 -- Game 18 winner vs. Game 20 winner (13th place), 2:40 p.m.
Game 30 -- Game 22 loser vs. Game 24 loser (11th place), 3:50 p.m.
Game 32 -- Game 22 winner vs. Game 24 winner (9th place), 5 p.m.